WOLFSBURG (AP) – Wolfsburg midfielder and Belgium youth international Junior Malanda (AP photo below) was killed in a car crash on his way to meet teammates for a training camp on Saturday.
“We are all deeply shocked and can hardly put our disbelief into words,” Wolfsburg general manager Klaus Allofs said. “He was the good spirit in our team and a fun-loving person. On top of that, Junior was an excellent footballer who was only at the beginning of his development. We still can’t believe that he’s no longer with us.”
Malanda was a passenger in a Volkswagen Touareg that was traveling toward Hannover when it went off the motorway “for as yet unknown reasons” near Bielefeld in western Germany, police said in a statement.
“The car broke through the right guardrail, hit a tree, and flipped over several times in the embankment. The car came to a stop on its roof. One person was thrown out of the vehicle by the accident and died at the scene,” the police said. “This was the 20-year-old Belgian Bundesliga player of VFL Wolfsburg, Bernhard Geoffrey Malanda Adje.”
The driver and another passenger, both also 20-year-old Belgians, were seriously injured and taken to nearby hospitals. The motorway was blocked for about two hours.
“The car was totally destroyed in the accident. At the time, there was heavy rain and gale-force winds,” the police statement said.
Malanda was due to leave for Wolfsburg’s training camp in South Africa late Saturday. The club cancelled its departure, and was to decide on Sunday whether to travel at all, news agency dpa reported.
Malanda was considered one of Belgium’s greatest prospects. He played at every youth level for his country from under-15s to under-21s.
“Belgian football has lost one of its great hopes,” said Marc Wilmots, coach of the Belgium senior side. “All my thoughts are with the family and those close to Junior Malanda.”
The Belgian Football Association paid tribute to Malanda on its website: “Heaven is now your playing pitch, but we will not forget you.”
Malanda joined Wolfsburg from Belgian Pro League side Zulte Waregem in January 2014, going on to score two goals and set up four more in 17 Bundesliga games. He previously played for Lille in France.
“We are incredibly affected. It’s a terrible misfortune,” Wolfsburg board member Stephan Gruesem said.
Belgium and Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin de Bruyne tweeted a picture of himself with Malanda with the words, “You will always be around!!”
Bundesliga rival Hannover put aside local differences and joined a host of clubs offering condolences.
“It’s terrible news,” Hannover sporting director Dirk Dufner said. “Our deepest sympathies go to his family, his friends and of course to all who were with him on a daily basis at Wolfsburg.”
Malanda is the fourth active Bundesliga player to die in a car accident after Eintracht Braunschweig’s Juergen Moll and Lutz Eigendorf in 1968 and 1983, respectively, and Maurice Banach of Cologne in 1991.